Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto was born in Reggio Emilia in 1474. His father was the commander of the city and Ariosto was the eldest of ten children. Although he was to study law in his youth, as was the practice of the day, the young man quickly developed an enduring love of poetry and learned about the classics for a while under the tutelage Gregorio da Spoleto.
As the oldest son of the family, Ariosto was compelled to take over the role of patriarch after the death of his father. Whilst most of his time was taken up with this, the young poet managed to write a few pieces that finally came to the attention of the cardinal who decided to offer patronage. Ariosto was taken on in the cardinal’s household – a situation that wasn’t altogether beneficial as the poet was often poorly rewarded for the literary work that he produced.
The cardinal had an elder sister who was also patron to the much more well-known Leonardo Da Vinci. Isabella D’Este favoured Ariosto with her support and he mentioned her in his most celebrated work Orlando Furioso. The demands of the court in which he found himself was, however, often at odds with the simple life of a writer he wanted to lead.
When in 1518, the cardinal desired Ariosto to travel with him to Hungary, the poet feigned illness and offer a number of false excuses which led to him being summarily dismissed from the household. It may be that Ariosto’s reluctance to travel was governed more by his desire to stay close to his mistress Alessandra Benucci than for any other reason.
Ariosto did not have to wait long for another patron though. The cardinal had a brother who was the Duke of the northern Italian city of Ferrara who was happy to offer patronage. When this finally ended, Ariosto had already become something of a distinguished diplomat. For a while he served as governor in Garfagnana, a post that did not come with much support to quell the numerous bandits and warring factions but which Ariosto held for the next three years and administered with a certain level of skill.
Ariosto’s greatest epic poem Orlando Furioso began in 1505 when he was in his thirties. It was a lifelong work and he would amend and revise parts of it over the years. The first edition was published in 1516 and by the second edition six years later a total of 40 cantos had been composed. Whilst working on Orlando Furioso, Ariosto also composed other works such as Satire and comedies including La Lena and I Studenti.
In 1525, Ariosto returned to Ferrara where he purchased somewhere to live and finally married his mistress Alessandra, spending his remaining days tending a garden and continuing to revise his masterpiece Orlando Furioso. The final version was published a few months before his death and contained 6 more cantos and was, he believed, the perfect version.
Ariosto died in 1533 whilst living in his house in Ferrara. His work Orlando Furioso remains one of the finest examples of epic poetry from the Renaissance period.